NEW DELHI: Incidents of human rights violations against Hindus are on the rise in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where they are in a minority, but neither of the two countries nor the international community is concerned. As a result of this, the population of Hindus has declined in these two countries. Since 1947, the Hindu population in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) has declined drastically from 31% to less than 9%, according to official government estimates. Dr Abul Barkat of Dhaka University says that Hindus will become extinct in Bangladesh in the next three decades if their population continues to decline at this rate.

In the first 11 months of 2018, 1,792 incidents of violence and discrimination targeting religious minorities took place in Bangladesh, according to Gobinda Chandra Pramanik of the Bangladesh National Hindu Mahajote, an alliance of 24 Hindu rights’ organisations. Of these, 50 took place on religious institutions and temples, while 2,734 acres were grabbed by local musclemen, according to “Hindu Human Rights Report 2019”, which covers violations of human rights of Hindus and has been prepared by Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay, Sankrant Sanu and Nithin Sridhar of the “IndiaFacts Research Group”.

The reports says that in 2017 and 2018, religious freedom conditions of Hindus continued to deteriorate in Islamic countries across the globe where they are in a minority and also in some parts of India.

Such incidents have been quite rampant in neighbouring Bangladesh, says the report. Around two years ago, the Purba Para Kali Mandir in Netrakona district of Mymensingh Division in northern Bangladesh was vandalised by people of the majority community there and four statues, Kali, Radha, Krishna and Jagai Madhai, were desecrated and broken. In a similar incident the same year, a mob desecrated idols and vandalised a temple, and went on the rampage in a Hindu neighbourhood apparently because the police stopped a tafsir mahfil (Islamic discussion) they were attending in College Para area of Alamdanga town, Chuadanga. They took out their frustration on Hindus who just happened to be nearby.

There were riots on Diwali day in Brahmanbaria in 2017, which led to the ransacking of more than 15 temples and led to the injury of 150 people. There were also attacks on the Santhal tribal community in Gopalganj. The beheading of Hindu priests and secular bloggers, abduction and conversion of Hindu girls, and forced occupation of minority owned lands also continued in the country.

A report by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which works for the cause of Hindus, says: “The plight of religious minorities and atheists has become increasingly precarious as there has been a marked increase in religiously motivated violence over the past few years coinciding with the rise of domestic and international Islamist terror groups. The recent escalation in violence coincides with the growing power of domestic and international extremist groups, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), and ISIS, among others.”

Similar is the case in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. According to human rights group South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, every year, radical men abduct and forcibly convert to Islam around 1,000 women, mostly Hindus. Around 5,000 Pakistani Hindus are forced every year to leave Pakistan for neighbouring India to escape religious persecution, according to the Pakistan Hindu Council.

For example, a Hindu Brahmin girl, Arti Kumari Sharma (19), who was a school teacher at Qasim Model School, was kidnapped at gun-point on 9 September 2017 from near her home in Pakistan’s Khairpur district in Sindh, by a Muslim lord, Ammer Wassan. She was forcibly converted to Islam, renamed as “Mahwish” and married off to a local Muslim boy called Amir Bux. She was forced into signing an affidavit claiming that she married Bux and converted to Islam out of her own free will.

In December 2018, Pakistan was labelled as a Country of Particular Concern by the US State Department for its “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom” against its religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmadiyya Muslims and Shia Muslims. In order to escape these rampant religious freedom violations, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Ahmaddiya Muslims have increasingly fled the country in the last several years. According to Hindu community leaders in Pakistan and NGOs in India, around 5,000 Hindus take refuge in India annually. Similarly, nearly 12,000 Pakistanis (mainly Christians) filed asylum claims in Thailand, and an estimated 10,000 Ahmadiyyas have sought asylum in Germany, UK and the US.

Human rights groups such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have estimated that more than 1,000 Hindu and Christian young girls are stolen from their families and forced to convert to Islam annually. Recently, a Sikh girl, Jagjit Kaur, a Hindu girl, Renuka Kumari, and a Christian girl, Faiza Mukhtar, were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam within weeks of each other.

The Hindu American Foundation, as part of the “Human Rights in South Asia” hearing recently submitted written testimony to the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Non-proliferation. Co-authored by HAF managing director Samir Kalra and executive director Suhag Shukla, the statement provides an overview of the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, as well as the current situation in the newly created Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh within India, which is a victim of cross border terrorism.

“Human rights conditions for ethnic and religious minorities continue to rapidly deteriorate in Pakistan and Bangladesh. US policymakers must more actively engage with the Governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh in safeguarding and promoting human rights, religious freedom, and secular democracy, while preventing the growth of religious extremism and militancy, and cross-border interference that is destabilizing the region,” said Kalra. “The US government should also work closely with the Government of India to counter terrorism in the region and continue to engage India as it works to restore normalcy in the newly created Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.”

In its recommendation to the international community, HAF has urged the US administration to work constructively with the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that attacks on Hindus and other minorities cease, past victims of violence are fully rehabilitated, and those responsible for attacks are brought to swift justice.

“US officials should be unequivocal in their condemnation of violence in all public statements. In addition, human rights and civil society activists should be supported. Despite its flaws, the US should support the International Crimes Tribunal as a means of achieving justice for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity and sending a message that war criminals will be held accountable and cannot act with impunity,” says the HAF report.